Suspension of disbelief is essential in the world of entertainment. We do it every time we see a movie or watch a television show. We allow the performers to lie to us. For the most part, this deception is harmless. We know that the performers are just playing their parts. In director Michael Gracey’s “The Greatest Showman,” this complex relationship between the audience and the entertainer is called into question.
This colorful, joyous celebration of a film tells the story of famous showman, and circus founder, P. T. Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman and Ellis Rubin). Starting with from childhood, we see Barnum as a boy and then man willing to take risks to better his circumstances. First, he pursues the girl who’s out of his league (Michelle Williams and Skylar Dunn). Then, when he finds himself out of a job he cons his way into a bank loan, and creates a new kind of theatrical spectacle.
With a cast comprised of outsiders, Barnum’s show satisfies the curiosity of the paying public. Carefully walking the line between con-artist and showman, Barnum builds up his act but quickly loses perspective in his pursuit of becoming bigger and better.
It’s a fun, fantastical story, a film that Barnum would surely approve of. Hugh Jackman is mesmerizing as the showman, and Zac Efron is equally captivating as his protégé. The music created by Pasek and Paul matches the tone of the film perfectly. Although, it would have been nice to see an opera-inspired song for famed opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
That being said, it’s hard to ignore the glossing over of the less than pleasant facts of Barnum’s rise to fame. While the film briefly attempts to show his flaws, he’s very quickly redeemed. It’s an idealized depiction, to say the least. However, in the midst of all the bright lights, catchy tunes, sparkly costumes, and creative choreography, it’s hard to protest the illusion. And frankly, that might just be the point.
…just for fun: